Book review: A Million Ways To Die In The West by Seth MacFarlane

 

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The Independent Culture

Fans of Seth MacFarlane’s work on the small and big screens, of whom there are many, will not be surprised by this first offering in novel form from the man. The likes of Family Guy and Ted, both of which he wrote and produced, are packed to the brim with X-rated wisecracking and an acerbic edge of misanthropy.

This Western novel is adapted from a screenplay of the same name that MacFarlane has co-written, and the multi-talented fellow is starring in the forthcoming movie alongside the likes of Charlize Theron, Liam Neeson and Amanda Seyfried. A film that he has also produced and directed.

And while it’s entertaining in its own shallow way, it’s hard to see what the purpose of this novelisation is, except maybe as an ego boost for the man. It’s very short, not much more than a fleshed-out screenplay in truth, and the stuff that novels can generally do better than screenplays, such as internal monologue, and insight and commentary on the wider world, well they’re either completely absent or done in such a clunky fashion as to detract from the story at hand.

And the story isn’t up to much to be honest. Familiar to anyone who’s seen a cowboy movie before, A Million Ways… tells the story of Albert, a mild-mannered sheep farmer totally ill-equipped for life in the Wild West, who falls for the glamorous new stranger in town. It turns out Anna is the wife of a notorious outlaw called Clinch, and Albert quickly has to find some mettle to save both his own skin and the life of his newfound love.

The tone of the novel is flat-out satire, debunking the myths of the cowboy era one after the other, and the best bits of the book occur early on when MacFarlane is setting up his scenario. There are high-noon shoot-outs, bar-room brawls, desperate bandits, useless sheriffs, and chases on horseback, and, for the most part, it’s solid fun.

The dialogue is very funny at times, although everyone speaks in the same 21st-century hipster comedian voice familiar from the author’s television and film work. Nevertheless, the banter between Albert and Anna and their associates is sharp and witty, and helps drag the reader along. When MacFarlane tries to be serious he doesn’t fare so well, and the first few scenes with Clinch especially are clumsy, the prose somehow leaden, as if the author can’t feel the rhythm of a sentence unless it’s got a gag at the end of it.

An entertaining read, but with precious little depth to it the whole thing is easily forgotten as soon as the last page is turned.

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